“I hope the rain will stop!”
“I hope that my kids will behave this time.”
“I hope I finally get a promotion!”
“I hope that I’ll feel better soon.”
So what does “hope” mean in those statements? It seems that the speakers are dissatisfied with their current situation and “cherish a desire with anticipation” (that’s Merriam-Webster’s definition, by the way). In the musical “Annie”, Orphan Annie sang well about that kind of hope: “I just stick out my chin and say, Oh… Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow. You’re always a day away.” She hoped.
Now consider Fellowship Community Church’s mission statement: “We exist to be a community of hope in Christ.” As an affirmation of that statement, “Community of Hope” banners hang in our parking lot. Though they look nice, do you wonder what that phrase means? Could it simply be reworded, “We’re a bunch of discontented people”? I hope you laughed about my rewording just now, because “hope” in the Bible has a different, much more exciting, deeper, richer meaning. Merriam-Webster tells me that the “archaic” meaning of “hope” is trust. And check out the definition of “trust”: a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone. For those of us at Fellowship, that Someone is Christ. That’s not future hope. Not just Annie’s “I love you, tomorrow” hope. It’s right now. Today. This minute. And synonyms for this kind of hope? Confidence. Certainty. Assurance. Wow, I like that! With the first definition, we were left uncertain and chewing our fingernails. But with this second definition, hey, our shoulders go back, our smiles grow wide, and our hearts beat steady and firm. We stride into 2019… with hope!
Let’s now consider Fellowship’s vision statement: “Fellowship Community Church seeks to help build communities that experience hope in Jesus Christ and share that hope with our neighbors here and around the world.” How does this work? Consider FCC’s Living Nativity. Don’t you love it?! Hundreds of us – all volunteering in the middle of a hectic month – happily get involved, from set-up and decorations to parking lot to costumes to cookies to tour guides to golf-cart drivers to clean-up. Community. Men play prophets. Angels soar. Young shepherds collapse on the ground. Children run to Jesus. Loud-voiced guys try to control their boat during a storm. And disciples gaze up at Jesus who rises into the clouds. Meanwhile, someone (okay, lots of people) push those behind-the-scenes buttons, check the loud-speakers, and propel that angel choir into the sky. And bless those helpers who secretly bring us hot chocolate, hand-warmers, and food.
One heart. One mind. Lots of hands. Community. A community of hope in Christ.
While we are home in New Jersey on an unexpected furlough from our mission in Nicaragua, we were borrowing a car to get around. But then a very kind and generous person gave us a car, a 2004 PT Cruiser. Of course, then I had to get insurance for it. Sharon from Hardenburgh Insurance went the extra mile for us and got us a good rate even after having a “lapse” in coverage while we were away. (That’s not good for your insurance rating.)
A few weeks later, I got a letter from the insurance carrier that my premium went up because they found a violation on my record that I hadn’t reported! The letter said that I had gotten a speeding ticket in Virginia on September 2, 2016. I know I didn’t get a ticket! And I was in at language school in Costa Rica on that date! This is a testimony on my record that really don’t want nor deserve!
After weeks of trying to figure out how to clear my record of this obvious clerical error, Cassandra tells my son Nate of the situation. He says, “Oh yeah. I remember that. We went to visit Liberty University. On the way back, Dad made us stop at Appomattox. After that, he got a speeding ticket on the highway home. Dad told me not to tell anyone.” Wow! Bomb dropped. (We were at my in-law’s house and, presumably, I didn’t want him running in and making a big announcement about it as soon we walked in the door.)
Usually, getting stopped by the police with your son in the car would be a very memorable event, but I still don’t remember any details or circumstances about getting this ticket. I would deny with my dying breath that it ever happened.
When we read the Scriptures it is easy to see that God has a great sense of justice (after all, He is absolutely Just) and has a desire for His people to also have a true heart of justice. Often in our world exhibit justice includes caring for the needs of those who are in hard circumstances of life. Either they have experienced loss of some kind; they are displaced or maybe have great needs in regards to health and care for their families. In Deuteronomy 10:18-19 God says, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” In Isaiah 58: 6-7; 10-11 He says “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke……. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderers with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?... and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.”
We are all to have this sense of justice and care, I believe, but there are times that God puts this kind of heart and compassion on certain people to go and make a difference in certain places of the world that have great needs and who need to hear of the great love and compassion of God as well as to have their physical needs met.
Aubrey McQuade is one of these special servants of the Lord. Aubrey spent the first 13 years of her life here at FCC and then moved away with her family to the mid-west. While she was here she already felt like she had a strong calling from God to be involved in missions work and over the years the Lord has strengthened and confirmed that calling. She did her student reaching in Bangladesh at William Carey Academy and then taught missionary children at Memorial hospital in Bangladesh for a year. She returned home to finish her schooling and accreditation and is now ready to head to the next place God is calling her, the island of Lesvos Greece.
I recognize that in just two words in the title of this article I may have already lost you. (The word “A” probably had small impact). “Reading” is already spooking some of you. “Plan” may be the final death blow.
I don’t feel particularly qualified to write this article. At best, I am a learner in developing and practicing a Reading Plan. But, the concept has been empowering to me. Many of you are trying to develop a Weekly plan, or an Exercise plan, or a Financial plan. Plans help keep us on target. They help get us back on track when we feel completely out of control. If you want to be a reader, a Reading Plan will help!
What is a Reading Plan?
It is just what it sounds like. Rather than flitting from random book to random book, you have a system - usually a list – to determine what you should read next. The plan could be specific titles (all of CS Lewis’ works) or a broader topic/genre (Civil War history, 25 Christian Classic books). A reading plan keeps you from stagnating, because you don’t know what to read next, or how to get started! It also keeps you from only reading the book that is right in front of you, which might be only because someone else read it.
You can certainly be reading other books. You could make every other book a just for fun book, and the other book part of your plan. Over the years, my reading plans have included: books on Abraham Lincoln, World War 2, English Puritan Classics, CS Lewis writings, Civil War Battles, Louis L’Amour Westerns, Early Church Writings, Biographies by Arnold Dallimore, Great Books on preaching, etc. But, I sprinkled in other books I had on my desired reading list, or just books that seemed to be fun reads. The Reading Plan is the foundation for your reading, but there is always space for the latest book that “everybody is reading!”.
Benefits of a Reading Plan
What we're learning in Fellowship KIDS
I love watching children learn. Just look at their faces when they are focused, concentrating on something. Hoping to understand. Wanting to understand. Faces scrunched up tight. Eyes glued to what they are doing. Brows furrowed. You can see the stretching and leaning and yearning. What if we all assumed that posture when we are offered the opportunity to learn about God? Could we possibly be as little children, stretching, leaning into, and yearning for truth, for life, for Christ Himself?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” And they came. Freely and with intense excitement, desiring to sit on his lap. They came. Mary also came to Jesus that way. Sitting at His feet, she learned from the Savior. She desired to spend quality time with Him, even to the point of making her sister mad that she was not contributing to the household chores. Jesus said that if we come to Him as little children, in this same way, with this same desire to spend time with Him, we, too, would meet Him. We too, could learn of Him and His kingdom.
What would we learn?
What is "Advent" celebration all about?
I think it's a common misconception that "Advent" is just another word for "Christmas", and that celebrating one is the same as celebrating the other. Certainly as we celebrate this season we need to keep the focus wholly on Christ, and work against the culture of consumerism, or at the very least, against the watering down of the real reason for celebration. And that is a part of both of these words, but "Advent" takes on a further significance with perhaps a longer perspective of what the season means to us today.
In looking for a good definition of what Advent celebration is all about, I stumbled on an article which I think perfectly sums up its significance:
"Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future."
Excerpt from Christianity.com. Read more here.
What was to celebrate are available?
A conversation-based series for women
As women, our metaphorical tents are pretty full.
We often care for the many people and play several roles in life. We are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and neighbors. Women balance many tasks and relationships throughout a given day. For this reason, it is important for us to stop, reflect and spend time with the Lord as well as other Christians to renew our spirit and minds. This renewal fuels and reignites us to continue you running the race that the Lord has set before us. “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31. We need to be filled with the word, which gives us strength and be reminded that we are not alone. Generally speaking, women also seem to have an innate need for conversation. We tend to process more fully when we have had a chance to talk about it.
In women’s ministry, we have felt the need to create an opportunity for women to gather and grow together while providing ample time to connect. We believe the Propel Women program provides an environment in which women can focus on a theme based in scripture, connect with other each and be encouraged in their walk. This fall we have focused on Isaiah 54:2 with the theme of growth. By pulling key words from the verse itself, we have been able to have deep, meaningful conversations. We first began with the word enlarge. As Christians we are called to enlarge our tents. To make room for God and others. This takes time, intentional discipline and sometimes the willingness to be uncomfortable. Many women expressed that it can be difficult to fit God and others into their day. We challenged each other to create elbow room in our lives for God and to allow the spirit to move. If we are tightly wound and lack extra space and time, we end up boxing God out of our daily life.
Moving hearts, changing lives
Nick and Anne Vanwingerden serve as missionaries in the country of France. They are involved in a vibrant student ministry in Grenoble and are seeking to begin a church on the east side of the city. There are permits and permissions and zoning issues to be resolved. The issue becomes even stickier because the mayor of the town is strongly communist and has actively opposed anything of a religious nature coming into town.
The group of believer’s who are starting the church found a property they could rent but needed to go before the mayor’s office with the proposal. Nick was worries about what might happen. You might remember this story from The Common Life Book, week 9, Five Faith Stories, Nov. 11-17.
The Continuing Story
People all over the world have been praying and God did some amazing things in the heart of the authorities there in Grenoble. Nick went with the president of their church association, Christian Lenne, to meet with the deputy mayor and the head of the urban planning service on October 9, 2018.
Here is what happened in Nick’s own words.
“Cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them, cannons in front of them, into the jaws of death rode the 600”. So begins Tennyson’s famous account of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” in the Crimean War. He was describing the heroic, yet costly attack of British calvary. The 600 rode thru a narrow valley, with Russian cannons smashing them from both sides.
Maybe you feel a little like those 600 riders. Life often feels dangerous. You don’t have to be horseback, on a battle field to feel threatened. There is enemy fire all the time for the Jesus follower. Warfare is real. And the ammo used is sometimes very damaging. Criticism, slander, ridicule, harshness can come from without, and inner voices hammer us with our own insufficiency, our lacks, ……cannons on the right, on the left, and right in front of you!
I want to encourage you with a Psalm written for such a time. King David writes to people in “times of trouble” (verse 9) in Psalm 9. He himself feels those troubles; “O Lord! See my affliction from those who hate me” (vs. 13). Psalm 9 highlights 3 steps we can take in the midst of hard times, when enemy attacks are real.
1. Recount God’s Blessings (vs. 1)
“I will recount Your wonderful deeds” David was surrounded by trouble. He was weary from being in charge, being strong for everyone else, being faithful in the countless roles he played. He was besieged by dissatisfied citizens, jealous associates and enemies, and rebellious kids. He could easily recite a list of reasons why he should be worried, tired, and irritable. But, he decides to “give thanks with my whole heart…. to recount all of Your wonderful deeds”(vs. 1). The word “recount” meant “to keep a tally, a running total”. Imagine how natural it would be for this tired leader to find reasons to be discouraged or angry. But, he determines to keep track of God’s “wonderful deeds” instead.
The most cheerful people are surely those who keep a running total of the good things. Some people seem to find that easier by a positive disposition. But, ultimately, for all of us, it takes practice. Keeping track of the blessings of God is learned behavior, taught at the feet of a God who wants us to see the “wonderful deeds” that He did today in our personal world. Did you see them? They were there! And they will be tomorrow!
2. Reflect on God’s Name (vv. 2-12)